Australian Rules star Mark O’Connor has revealed that he would have been available to line out for Kerry in the rest of the Championship – if Peter Keane’s men hadn’t been knocked out in the last seconds by Cork in the Munster semi-final in early November.
The 23-year-old Dingle man, speaking on Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk programme, confirmed that he had been in contact with the Kingdom manager over the previous months to suss out the possibilities of being available for the squad, and that his club, the Geelong Cats, had given permission for him to line out in the green and gold.
However, with the Cats going all the way to the AFL Grand Final on October 24, where they lost 81-50 to the Richmond Tigers at the Gabba in Brisbane, the former All-Ireland minor-winning captain was going through his quarantine period at the time of Kerry’s trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on November 8.
“It was obviously very disappointing for Kerry. I was watching it myself. It’s funny, I had actually got the permission from Geelong to play, but I was in quarantine for the Cork game, so I obviously wouldn’t have been able to do it then,” he said.
“Yeah, I would have been available had they gotten through, but that’s just unfortunate. That’s the way sport works, I suppose. Had Geelong not gotten so far, it was the fact that we made the Grand Final, that made me obviously stay out in Australia that bit longer.
“It just meant that I would have to quarantine for two weeks here a bit later, so it just ran a bit too long. It was kind of planned, that if we had gotten through, I would have been available at least.”
O’Connor is philosophical about the whole situation, though he admits that it did hurt to see Mitchelstown’s Mark Keane, who had returned to Ireland before him after Collingwood’s exit during the play-offs, being sprung off the bench to break Kerry hearts with his match-winning goal at the death.
“Ah well, I couldn’t control it. Obviously, Mark Keane as well, sinking Kerry’s ship, that was heart-breaking to see. But look I had no control over it. It’s happened now, so I can’t really have any regrets.
“Yeah, Peter and I had been in contact for a few months, just talking about the possibilities. In fairness to Geelong, they were very welcoming of it.
“I probably didn’t do a great job of explaining how much playing for Dingle meant to me that time previously, until I went back after, and then they probably understood a bit more. Once I explained my case about Dingle that time, they were very welcoming of the idea of me playing, but obviously it didn’t work out this year. They were very good in fairness.”
O’Connor, who will turn 24 in mid-January and is under contract in Australia until 2022, is very open to the idea of playing for Kerry if he gets a similar opportunity in the next few seasons.
“Of course. Obviously, if I am injury-free, and I am able to travel home at the end of the season, it’s definitely something that I would be into,” he stressed.
With Na Gaeil’s Stefan Okunbor also on the books in Geelong, O’Connor has high hopes for Dingle clubmate, Deividas Uosis, Kerry goalkeeper in October’s All-Ireland U-20 semi-final defeat to Galway, who will soon forge his own path in the AFL after penning a two-year deal with the Brisbane Lions earlier in the year.
“I just met him down the gym again yesterday, Deividas is always working hard. His mind is very clued into it, he’s very keen, he’s been looking forward to it now for a while. I obviously wish him all the best and I’m sure he will do a good job out there.”